Spherical ships

This is totally random, and won’t be a part of Infinity:Battlescape. It’s just something that I thought of while reading the recent post about using joysticks to control ships.

I’ve long said that ships should be spheres. There is no preferred orientation in combat when ships have such powerful drives, so combat really boils down to just keeping your head on a swivel to keep track of what’s going on around you and then thrusting as needed. Spherical ships would be ideal for that.

Consider sitting in a spherical ship. You’re either watching from the center looking out from a spherical room with screens everywhere or you’re watching from the outside, looking ‘over the shoulder’ of the sphere. You can use the mouse to look in any direction, without restriction, as fast as you care to mess with your view angle.

At any time, your thrusters fire orthogonally to your camera orientation. So if you want to fly straight at or away from something, you look at it and thrust. If you want to orbit something, you look at it and use your side thrusters. Similarly for up and down thrusters, or firing sets of thrusters. The orientation of the ship never changes, only the way your commands are translated to thrusters.

Weapons would be mounted to the surface of the sphere, but travel anywhere across the surface that you want. So you can cluster all your weapons on the camera side, form them into a ring around the camera direction, uniformly scatter them across the surface of the ship, or some mix, depending on the calibers involved. Imagine BB-8 from Star Wars, but with the body stationary and multiple heads wandering all over the surface.

The basics of this could be done with a Battlescape ship, of course, by just having the ships physically turn as fast as you care to rotate your camera. Unfortunately, that’s not particularly consistent with the fiction of those ships.

Interestingly, spherical ships would be pretty good for high speeds in atmospheres. High drag and low heating works well with super-powerful engines.

Anyway, this is something that appeals to me, and I throw it out there just so you guys have heard the idea. Perhaps it’ll appeal in a decade or so.


I tend to agree that the shapes of space vessels are “wrong” from an engineering standpoint, but I’m not sure I agree spheres are perfect.

For one, weapons systems with any sort of usable magazine capacity have large systems contained within the vessel. Attempting to reload external magazines would be difficult and dangerous, doubly so under fire. Even if that’s a non-issue, there’s the love/hate relationship with external magazines: an external detonation of the magazine is unlikely to do any significant damage to your vessel, since there’s no shockwave. On the other hand, the magazines are much, much more exposed and likely to be damaged/detonated. I suppose the systems could “lock” onto the hull when in position, so caliber of weapon won’t be a huge issue.

Two, the sphere as you imagine it would require engines placed all over the surface of exactly the same size. Modern concepts, where ships are more “boatlike” only require a single oversized thruster for main propulsion, and multiple smaller ones for maneuvers. This is not ideal for maneuvering, but it is ideal for reducing weight (no large, heavy engines pointing in “useless” directions).

That all being said, I don’t think a spherical or near-spherical ship is a terrible design. It maximizes internal volume and surface area while minimizing cross sectional profile, which are all very ideal things for space craft. I just think it suits non-combative vessels more than combat vessels.

I understand the concerns about design, but I think you’re finding weaknesses in systems that simply don’t have a reason to be on the ship. There are no chemical explosives in rail guns or lasers. Or blasters. Or half a dozen other fictional weapon types. The drives aren’t rockets, no matter how long games hang onto the visual, so there are myriad fictional drive systems that could be put in place that just don’t need exhaust ports. The orthogonal thrust system is only about control, not the engineering of the drive system. If there was a way to command it to thrust where I’m pointing my finger, then I’d say to do that.

Ah, I was expecting to maintain something akin to modern tech (although you’re absolutely correct regarding weapon systems, they don’t have to have the issue of a magazine filled with explosives).

I’m not sure I’d want a game with the “magic” propulsion, though. I’ll buy off on sophisticated weaponry, guidance, cameras-for-eyes, and even inertial dampening, but I’m not sure I can convince myself that a massless propulsion is “good enough” for a game.

How would that work though? The guns would have to be fixed on hardpoints on the sphere. Either that or it has lots and lots of layers that can move in opposite directions at the same time. Then you’ve got the crew compartment in the center presumably. How do you keep that from spinning at the speeds that the guns on the outside would be? Spherical ships would require lots of mechanical complexity.

Spheres in design have a tendency to make things awkward.

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If the drive system can generate thousands of gs of acceleration, it can handle a little torque. Even if the ship rotates, it doesn’t matter because there’s already other magic tech to ensure that those linear accelerations don’t crush the ship and everything inside it.

People who lack experience with spherical constructs usually say that.

Square Peg FTW.

Sorry, didn’t think you were entirely serious with talking about realism and efficiency while still keeping a human pilot.

Also; wouldn’t you still be able to match or improve upon having an array equally powerful thrusters on all sides by having one or two larger, more powerful thrusters for the same weight to to fire after turning the ship at greater accelerations?

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iirc spherical ships are a thing, especially in the community that deals with theoretical high velocity travelling (warp etc), I think I also saw a rather famous physicist talk about spherical ships as the ideal form (also about submerging the pilot completely in fluids to lessen the burden of travelling. So I guess you’re in good company with your knack for spheres.

I have mitigated opinion on spherical ships.

On a war-side view, this means the whole surface of the sphere should be armored, instead of leaving “gaps” like, say, the behind of modern land tanks. This increases the overall mass, which does have an impact on atmosphere flight mechanics.

This also means that, unless there’s some “magic internal thruster”, you still have external exhausts that are going to be your weak points. When they’re destroyed, you’re losing valuable control over your ship. While this is still true on a “classical” ship design (even heavier on risk), I fail to see how systematically presenting a weak point to your ennemy, whatever the angle, can be acceptable.

EDIT: on another note, this also means that you have maximum volume for minimal area. This is good beacuse this means less area can be hit by the ennemy, and it’s bad because you’ve got less space to accomodate weapons overall.

The spherical concept would probably be good for non-military use, I think.

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Why do you think that guns need a lot of surface?
My dream warship is one big gun with one big engine behind it and then you add minor things around that like fuel, lifesupport and so on…
And yes - those minor things are then placed to form a spherical space ship.
Spheres have the lowest rotational inertia possible - which means you will turn faster then your enemy.
And they have the best surface to volume ratio - so you need to waste less mass for your hull/armor.

I don’t think spherical ships make much sense in space nor athmosphere.

Atmosphere Pro:

  • Turn around fast

Atmosphere Con:

  • Low drag also means you can’t use it to change directions, whereas an arrow shaped ship has both low drag and can use its flight control surfaces to change directions fast and efficiently

Space Pro:

  • Turn around fast Theres no drag in space, the ships shape does not matter apart from the ships mass distribution (momentum when turning). So even if it is spherical you need to distribute the mass evenly across the entire ship or else it wont have any benefits. You could to the same in an arrow shaped ship (most of the mass at the center).

Also: If you have guns that can rotate around the ship, the ships does not have to be spherical for that, they could just be on rails on the side…

If you want to be able to aim quickly this makes more sense:


Wait, you want gaps in the armor coverage? I started this with the observation that space combat has no preferred direction, so combat ships shouldn’t have gaps in coverage. As for mass, the sphere has the greatest volume for a given surface area. As for the overall mass, well, I’m not assuming metal plates any more than I’m assuming rockets.

It’s a magic internal thruster because rockets won’t work.

Rocket won’t work, guys. They don’t work. Stop thinking in terms of rockets. Rockets can’t do the job.

The ship has as much volume as is needed to accommodate weapons and any other systems. They’re just compacted into the least surface area.

Spherical ships don’t turn. They just go in a new direction.

The idea was intended for space operations. Send winged ships into atmospheres.

[quote=“TARS, post:12, topic:3269”]
Theres no drag in space, the ships shape does not matter apart from the ships mass distribution (momentum when turning).[/quote]

It doesn’t matter when considering only where the thrust is applied. It matters when maneuvering in a combat environment, and having to deal with attacks from all directions. Any non-spherical shape will have variations in offense and defense, leading to exploitation by attackers. Blind spots on turrets is a classic problem with these things.

That BB-8 head is a turret. It’s oversized, but it’s a turret. It moves around the surface of the sphere to put the firepower where you want it. If that WW2 turret is destroyed, the ship has a blind spot because it is fixed in place on a non-spherical ship. No other turret gives coverage to its field of fire. A spherical ship with turrets would fare better than any other shape.

[quote=“TARS, post:12, topic:3269”]
Also: If you have guns that can rotate around the ship, the ships does not have to be spherical for that, they could just be on rails on the side…[/quote]

Yes, you could do that, but it would be more restrictive than the spherical approach, and more complex because the turrets would have to be capable of moving across the various curves of the ship (concavities and convexities). Unless you were to create a spherical grid around the ship that would allow the turrets to be designed for one geometry…

Ok, even if the technology would work exactly how you describe. What combat role would this ship best serve? It works only in space, but can possibly shoot in every direction very fast. Switching weapon direction fast is only needed in close combat, so the ship would serve as a fighter? The outer weapon system would also need to be very low mass in order to be fast, that means potentially less powerful.

Consider for example the american A-10 aircraft. Basically a gun with wings. I don’t see how weapons can be small and still powerful. So the fighter would be only useful against other fighters.

Why not use a swarm of small gun drones that are deployed by a fighter instead, If the weapon of the sphere is expendable anyway. They can also fire in multiple directions at once…

My idea of a fighter is: fast and small lightly armored craft with a big gun, not small heavily armored craft with a small gun.

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The question is if moving the weapon along the outer shell bb8 style is really faster and more efficient than turning the whole ship. The reason ww2 bombers had these weapon mounts is that the had to shoot in every direction for defense. Spaceships can turn without problem while maintaining direction. Also fighters just have to shoot in one direction. Ideally the side that faces gunfire most often should be the smallest and best armored. For a fighter that would be the front, this alone implies an elongated shape. At least for a fighter.


I always thought that the prefect space-ship would be a sphere, with the tech so advanced that there is no need to worry about such primitive things as weapons, windows, landing gears, propulsion, power generation, heat dispersion and any other earthly thing you can think off.

You sit in your sphere, tell it where to go and a few moments later you are there. Why a sphere, it’s much more classy and perfect than any other shape. I would even argue that the movie Contact had the best “space ship” ever created.


No, i didn’t say I want gaps, merely that there wouldn’t be any like currently observed in most modern contraptions, for different reasons. You did mention in your first post that the spherical space ship would fit well in high-speed atmosphere flight, therefore my mass observation.

If you’re not assuming anything and “magic” is the word, then by all means, I say magic armor with magic internal thruster with magic weapons are the way to go. Hell, why not throw some magic spells since we’re at it?

I know that technology may (will?) evolve so that it would seem like magic to us. Maybe indeed spherical battleships will be the new ironclads of the American Civil War, putting previous models into debris or museums… but in the mean time, the physics of action-reaction behind “classic” rocket propulsion are the (only?) way to move in conventional space that I know of.


One other advantage of a sphere is that it does not have a surface that is perpendicular to a colliding objects vector. Against kinetic weapons this can be useful as it would help to deflect kinetic energies, no matter from what direction those kinetic attacks come from.

Here, I made a diagram:


It depends on too many assumption I’m not sure about to give a definitive assumption, but why go for a sphere instead of a directional ship?
If you know your opponent is in one direction (i.e. you’re supposed to not get encircled), then you’re better off with a narrow ship, concentrating weapons and defences on one side. You’ll maximise offence and defence as well as minimizing exposed area for the given mass. If you are facing up to two groups of enemies, you can go for a flat ship, armouring edges, and either arming them or have weapons on both faces, aiming outward, with one axis of rotation.

If you are expecting to be routinely surrounded, a sphere may be a good option. That said, while a sphere maximize space for a given (vulnerable) surface, it often gives awkward-shaped spaces when you try to fill it efficiently, so it depends on your engineers work.

With magical thrusters, you are flying like a brick, not like a plane. And with magical heat-shielding, you don’t care about compression heat. So a sphere is probably decent enough, and can fly equally well in all directions. Other shapes like, say, a saucer, are better flying around in specific directions, but worse in others. And with the sphere, you probably expect enemies all around, so you’ll need to move in all directions.

Also, flying death spheres can make for great visuals.

[quote=“Playbenni, post:15, topic:3269”]
The question is if moving the weapon along the outer shell bb8 style is really faster and more efficient than turning the whole ship.[/quote]

Well the turret is certainly more efficient. Think of the ship as being chopped up into turret-sized chunks. Now think of the energy needed to rotate all those chunks versus rotating one chunk that sits on the outer surface of those chunks. The innermost chunks don’t have to move much, but the ones on the surface of the sphere certainly have to move a bunch. The energy needed to move one turret on the surface of the sphere just doesn’t compare.

Imagine a swarm of ships attacking a spherical battleship with moving point defense turrets. Any given enemy ship could have a turret assigned to it.

Imagine too trying to hit turrets that move around.

Magic systems are part and parcel of spaceships games. That’s nothing new. The spheres use as much magic as Battlescape. The only real difference is that I don’t expose rocket plumes - and Battlescape’s prototype doesn’t expose them when in warp.

They would have the advantage of reduced heating. For all I know, the magic drive technology doesn’t work in atmospheres (something that I prefer for reasons of gameplay, actually).

That will be a rare occasion in a game of 100v100.